Media headlines, academic studies and management gurus are all focusing on the power of collaboration to get more done and improve company culture. Collaboration offers significant benefits to companies and their customers, yet the heavy focus on breaking down barriers and getting more done as a team has a dark side that few business leaders openly address: collaboration overwhelm.
The Harvard Business Review reported that the amount of time workers spend in collaborative efforts has increased 50 percent over the last two decades. The downside, however, is that your team may spend as much as 80 percent of their days on collaboration systems, in meetings, taking phone calls and responding to emails. Ultimately, your team needs the time and space to get deeper work done: writing, coding and higher-value thought processes, for example. Here’s a closer look at how the right collaboration tools can help your team fight collaboration overwhelm.
How Unstructured Collaboration Works Against You
As the authors of the Harvard Business Review piece point out, there are several factors lending themselves to increased collaboration. Teamwork is a core value of successful companies today. Businesses are working hard to break down silos, letting their teams get more done and share critical business intelligence. Increased connectivity makes it possible for us to always be available to our colleagues, customers and the broader market.
However, when our entire days or weeks are eaten up by collaborative activities such as attending non-essential meetings, when does the real work get done? How do our teammates handle the stress of being always on-demand, while also combating an ever-growing to-do list that they lack the time to finish? At first glance, it may seem like collaboration tools will make the overwhelm worse. But used strategically, collaborative tools make it easier for teams to create space for productive teamwork and for non-interrupted time when needed to focus on individual deliverables.
How Collaboration Tools Help Your Team Reclaim Time
Reduce meetings: Meetings often focus on providing your teams, managers and other people in your organization – or outside stakeholders such as clients – with information about a project or product. They can also let you gather input and facilitate communication. Digital tools make it easier to quickly gather opinions, share up-to-the-minute status updates on projects, and much more without commanding everyone to block off the same time in their schedules. Collaborative tools let managers check in on their teams without interrupting workflow. Instead of gathering everyone in a room for 30 minutes, it’s possible to quickly share an update on Microsoft Office 365’s chat channel, “Microsoft Teams.” Information still gets shared, but there’s less institutional and human capital being spent on getting things done.
Facilitate better access to information: Requests for collaboration focus on resources that require information, a personal connection or a person’s time and attention. Informational requests are often one of the biggest, most frequently recurring types of requests. From access to data sets to the name of the right person to talk with, these small requests can pile up and interfere with your team’s workflow throughout the day. Collaboration tools can make it easier to share informational resources and create a streamlined process to locate the information needed. For example, companies can use tools like Microsoft SharePoint to create document libraries or publish project-specific websites that exist as reference points. Individuals can easily access the project documents they need without bothering a colleague. As a result, time is saved and your team spends less time responding to requests that could be resolved in another way.
Effectively distribute work: Does the bulk of work in your organization fall to certain people? Are key individuals a linchpin in getting tasks done or sharing their opinions before initiatives can move forward? Collaboration tools make it possible to see who is working on what by providing status updates on specific projects and showing who is assigned to which tasks. If there’s a bottleneck, it’s possible to use collaboration tools to allow these critical contributors to quickly give their opinions or to redesign information workflows to take busy, non-essential individuals out of the conversation. Collaboration tools provide managers with the visibility for more effective project management and streamlined communication workflows.
Streamline the feedback process: Everyone has been part of a project involving multiple people offering feedback, sometimes with long delays in response. With teams located across time zones, it’s not always practical to schedule live meetings to review documents as a team. Being copied on endless emails and trying to track versions of feedback contributes to collaboration overwhelm. Collaboration software eliminates back and forth, and centralizes feedback into a single easy to view document. For example, a document can be saved to a shared drive – using tools such as Microsoft Office 365 – and then specific team members can be invited to edit it. It’s possible to collect everyone’s input on a document and then move forward to the next stage.
Reduce travel and logistical hassles: Contributing to teams around the globe often raises demands for employees to travel. Not only does this become expensive, but it can cost hours or even days while employees are in transit or recovering from trips. Using tools such as video conferencing platforms and presentation software helps keep everything moving while also eliminating travel and logistical hassles.
Collaboration overwhelm is real, and managers don’t just have to rely on project management and team oversight to combat the problem. The right IT tools can help. Invest in flexible collaboration suites that can be customized to your unique needs and help your team get more done together – while also protecting the time they need to focus on their individual areas of work.